The New York Times reported Wednesday that due to public opposition as well as spiraling costs, the New York Public Library will not undertake a massive renovation of its flagship headquarters at 42nd Street. The NYPL’s decision will likely have impact throughout the city, particularly in relation to the Brooklyn Public Library’s controversial proposal to raise much-needed capital funds by selling select branch locations.
In backing away from the contentious Central Library Plan — put forth more than seven years ago as a means to reinvent the library’s historic Carrère and Hastings building — NYPL President Tony Marx acknowledged that a recent change in city government as well as fierce public opposition were simply too much to overcome.
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“When the facts change, the only right thing to do as a public-serving institution is to take a look with fresh eyes and see if there is a way to improve the plans and to stay on budget,” Marx was quoted by the Times’ Robin Pogrebin.
In an e-mail response to a BHB inquiry about the NYPL’s decision, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s spokesperson Marti Adams said: “Over the past year, Mayor de Blasio has been clear that the New York Public Library must provide the public with realistic estimates of the projected costs of any proposed renovation to insure it can be executed within budget, protect the accessibility of all of the library’s facilities and resources so that they’re available to every New Yorker, and ensure that any plan it puts forward strengthens the community branches in the NYPL system as well as its research system.”
As reported by the Times, $150 million in taxpayer funds allocated by the Bloomberg administration for the Central Library Project will now be used by the NYPL for “other purposes.” Ms. Marti stated that “the Administration is pleased to see that the updated proposal addresses these priorities.”
One Brooklyn Heights resident particularly pleased by the NYPL’s about face was Michael D.D. White, co-founder of Citizens Defending Libraries. Mr. White was confident about the decision’s impact on public libraries throughout the city, including the BPL’s Cadman Plaza branch.
“I think it [the NYPL’s decision] is absolutely appropriate and the thing that we should be doing,” Mr. White said in a telephone interview. “With the abandonment of this plan we are not selling libraries or shrinking them and getting rid of books to the same extent we were.”
The NYPL’s plan to fund their grand 42nd Street project by selling off the Mid-Manhattan library and the Science, Industry and Business Library (SIBL) echos the BPL’s proposal to sell its Brooklyn Heights and Pacific branches to raise capital funds for other BPL sites. The BPL recently backed away from selling the Pacific branch, but has fielded proposals from seven developers for a residential building on the Brooklyn Heights branch site that would contain a substantially smaller library.
White and his supporters have challenged both the BPL and the NYPL, and the long-time Brooklyn Heights resident sees parallels in his fights with the city’s two largest public libraries. “The most important thing was to bring to light the fact that the public was always vehemently opposed to the plans once they understood the underlying facts,” White said about CDL’s public and social media protests. “The other thing that we did was to make clear that the fates of all the other libraries in the city were interlinked and that it wasn’t just the Central Library Plan where libraries were being sold and shrunk.”
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Saying that he had “qualms” about the Mayor’s decision to allow $150 million to remain at the NYPL’s discretion, White suggested that “Brooklyn and Queens should have a claim on some of that money—money that was boondoggle to begin with. The fact that everything in the Central Library Plan was going to cost a phenomenal amount isn’t a reason to be sending all that money to the NYPL which only serves Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island.”
Acknowledging a substantial victory for his and other opposition groups, the CDL leader said “I am cheered that we can achieve success, but we can’t rest on our laurels. There are more libraries to save, like SIBL, Brooklyn Heights, Pacific Street, Clinton Hill. Future victories aren’t going to come without hard work.”
Photo: Noticing New York